This file contains information typed up from letters we’ve received from people incarcerated at Columbia Correctional Institution. To see the organizing that is being done by IWOC in response to these conditions, go here . Please work with us to change these conditions,
Content warning: abuse, mental illness, suicide, solitary confinement, physical torture, psychological torture
Earlier this year unit 2 had to be locked down because there was a food strike. Dissatisfied with the new rule that we could no longer choose where we sat for meals, inmates unified and refused to eat. Several other units chose to follow suit to some degree. For days on end administrative staff had to be present on the units to ensure that inmates were adjusting to the new rules.
Warden Bitmann redid the rule book. As a result a push back occurred. People were protesting the assigned seating and other smaller causes. Staff had no sense of what the new rulebook stated but yet they tried to enforce it. Unit 2 started the protest. No one was coming out to eat or they were tossing their trays. When the whole strike started they had at least 20 staff on the unit. Every high up, white shirts, and a lot of officers. They were on high alert. After everything was done and over with the warden said he didn’t think anyone was going to do anything (they underestimated our resolve). The unit 2 hunger strike led to units 4 and 5 then 8 and 9. No one held out very long and staff just locked down the units who were involved.
What are your concern about current prison policies?
They keep changing them all the time and we either don’t know them or the COs don’t know them and implement their own and then write you up for it.
What would you like to change? Focus on small change that have a change to be won eg some recent rule changes.
Procedure in handling mentally ill inmates. There is a pattern of indifference practiced in DOC especially CCI where a seriously ill prisoner cries out for help and wants to hurt himself and is ignored or actually encouraged to proceed with attempting suicide. And DOC (CCI) is giving people like me 90 days in seg for disruptive conduct and disrespect.
Is seating at meals an issue for you?
Absolutely. I won’t sit by a pedophile. There are people who will want to fight me for sitting at a table with them. If I don’t I get a ticket.
What are your concerns about current prison policies?
That they are exceedingly dangerous and cause prisoners to be driven insane and put everyone at risk
What one or two things, if they were changed, would make a difference for you?
The warden (Michael Dittman) and security director (Lucas Weber)
What are your concerns about current prison policies?
High, because some of them were made to be violated civil and criminal laws
What do you see as threats in trying to make policy changes at your prison?
Retaliation to a level where you may get killed.
Do you have ideas for specific tactics that might result in policy changes?
Of course, preliminary injunctions pursuant to rule 65(a) of the Federal rules of civil procedures.
What tactics have you seen used in the past that didn’t work? (that resulted in little or no change)
Exhaustion of legal remedies, prisoner to prisoner supports, criminal investigations, church supports, family supports, etc
Is seating at meals an issue for you?
Yes, because my anxiety problems
What kind of help would you like for making changes in your current conditions?
Political pressure and media publicity.
What opportunities do you see for making changes?
Is seating at meals an issue for you?
Yes, because there are inmates that have jumped me and I’m forced to sit with them at meal times. I don’t go to some meals just so I don’t have to sit with some people.
What one or two things, if they were changed would make a difference for you?
The way seg is being misused by staff. I know just for writing you I could end up in seg tomorrow for nothing but some lie they come up with. They could do more for people other than lock them in seg units like they always do. People have been pushing to change this but they can’t stop or they will keep miss using seg in prison.
The only thing the DOC understands is lawsuits…That’s how policy gets changed.
I am seeing inmates punished for informing guards of suicidal ideas. I also see guards turning a blind eye to inmates cutting themselves. Guards are leaving inmates for dead and the unit manager for segregation is aware and even is instructing guards to ignore acts of self-harm and suicidal reports.
Let me tell you a little about CCI seg. Well Warden Dittman came up with a great idea to lock all the windows in DS-2 seg. The warden does not like it when inmates talk outside the windows so he had them all locked and there is no way to open them….There is no AC and with all the windows being locked its like an old fashioned sweatbox. If it’s 90 outside it has to be 110 inside….The unit manger Ms Walker just moved to other units in CCI because she couldn’t put up with all the problems in DS-2…Staff that are told they have to work DS-2 “go home!”
Warden Dittman will not be the warden at CCI come next month.
“Some lying CO told you or somebody with the IWW that the COs have to suffer through the heat also. Now if that’s not the biggest lie ever. The Cos sit 90% in the day room with a really big fan and 6 in big windows open all day all night. Every inmates window is locked bu them 6 really big windows in the day room are open. Did the COs tell you that? I think not. It is very clear they are liars.”
“I want to thank you all at the IWW for all your help. Thank you for listening to me. It’s nice to be treated like a normal person from time to time.”
“I had a mental breakdown during my 3rd hunger strike. I recently went back to eating but am only able to eat little solid foods. I only started eating a week ago, when medical finally ordered my MRI on my back which the doctor here at CCI said was very upset. Director of Heath Service directed him to order my testing which took 3 years. In short, my back in the MRI this whole time my claims were valid. I ended up also having to hire attorneys office out of Milwaukee, Pinix Soukup as I knew was causing further damage to bring awareness to the medical treatment I need, it was time to get a personal mouth piece.”
“The warden and security director and deputy warden allow their officers and captains to do as they please.”
“My main concern is the medical care at this institution. The doctor care is tylanal & ibuprofen and telling people they are a young man. Because no one cares here, inmates self harm and act to try and bring awareness and attention to such lack of structure, and the major problem with the continuation of egregious behavior in all Depts.”
The construction of this new supermax unit is being conducted now. I’ve gotten one report from a staff member who says it is going to be a pscyhe ward and the rooms/cells are torturous.
Most of these guys (in AC) are on meds, they need help exposing what’s happening to them. A lot of them are not receiving real mental health treatment. I recommend that when you’ll have the Columbia Campaign that it also address this new SHU construction. SHU are torture chambers, inhuman. Inform the public. Ask news stations and papers to investigate.
Lucas Weber the security director should receive some of a lot of the concern citizen phone calls & emails relating to CCI. CCI campaign should include SC/A.C issue. They are still abusing SC/AC. My 21st year in SC/AC is approaching & they have no plans to release me. Also, CCI campaign needs to address how CCI holds mentally ill prisoners in SC/seg.
CCI has had a few interesting things happening lately. On the G.P. units we now have portable phones in place of stationary tier phones. In addition we now have tier tenders (of which I am one) who distribute the phones as well as supplies and forms. In addition, unlike in other maximum security prison, the tier tenders have a key to the traps. An inmate in maximum security with any sort of key is unprecedented!
As you already know we got rid of Warden Dittman and have as the interim warden the GBCI warden, Eckstein. It’s still TBD what kind of warden he will be. Rumor has it that in the past he has no qualms with having C/Os arrested and walked out.
Since the summer has started we have had a really screwed up schedule. It’s 1 2 week rotating schedule. We get several recreation periods but very few dayroom periods. Sicne the imposition of the portable phones though dayroom has become less important to most inmates.
There have been some positives that benefit the wealthy. You won’t believe what they have been giving us as fund raisers. The candy list and in addition you can buy ice cream weekly. There are 2 fundraisers on top of the monthly fundraisers.
The problem with medication have not stopped. Particularly with people in Seg. and those who transfer form unit to unit. There is under-staffing not only within the general CCI staff but also and especially with the nursing staff. There are so few it’s a joke. Just a few days ago a guy who came back from the hospital that day was complaining of pain. Staff contacted HSU and reported that the nurse told him that she was the only nurse working so she could not respond. What the hell kind of response is that? I filed like 8 or 9 complaints within a 30 day span regarding delays in my medication. I won all of them.
You asked about the seating policy. While the initial push was good, no one really does much now. Basically they we have figured out to just wait back unti lthe people we want to sit with are let out and we then take our trays and take a seat. No one refuses to eat or anything. So there isn’t much to say on that issue, sorry.
They did change the way they let us out for mass movement now. It’s rather irritating and some guys get into it with the staff over it. We have 4 tiers, A and B side. On each tier there are 2 levels (upper and lower). On each tier (hallway) there is a left and right side. Now they let out half a tier at a time. Lets say A upper on the left side. You have to wait until every door is closed before they open the large tier door at the end of the tier before they let everyone out. Then they repeat that until all the sides are let out. Do you know how long that takes to let everyone out? The complaint is they just used to let out a whole tier at once and when most of the people were out of their cells they would just move on to the next tier. It was a relatively quick process. Now it takes so long and a lot of guys mis portions of rec. or meals due to it.
They screwed the guys in RH-2. I understand that they are in seg, but they sealed off the windows. Those cells will fry you. They aren’t air-conditioned cells like in Rh-1. It’s just a hot box. They also started doubling up guys who are in RH-1 for refusing to go to Rh-2. They built this brand new HSU building for millions of dollars and for what? It’s not in use. They have all the appliances running. The lights are on. Why is no one home?
“The conditions at CCI are horrible. For last 3 months they have been violating the 4 hours a week rec. They don’t even schedule for it….They force inmates to be doubled up in seg. They have a rule if their cellmate threatens or seems “aggressive” they will not open the trap till the next day. No food. No meds. Nothing. Straight gulag style. Our range is considered the “bad range”. SO they deprive us of everything.”
8-21-18 Matthew LaBrec #531236 [publicly]
“This prison is slowly grinding itself into destruction. Unknown to 90% of prisoners is this: CCI has teetered on the brink of being locked down this entire year. For no other reason but their severe shortness of staff…The only form of allowed group resistance (meaning they cannot write you a ticket) is filing of complaints and subsequent lawsuits. Now those of us that have the knowledge to this ourselves are. My request to my fellow litigators is this: if they can’t pay you don’t let their rights be stomped on there is a difference between oppressors and the oppressed. Don’t ally yourself with the former of these two, it shows your true self. I would also like to say this to the people who need help with legal work: if you can help the person doing your legal work help them.”
“We had another suicide in our seg unit DS-2. The inmate that killed himself was a young man only 22 years old. It was his first time in seg. He was doing 180 days in seg…He was asking for help bu nobody would listen….How many people have to kill themselves before change comes. The seg units in CCI are hell”
As we all know, WI DOC is taking 50% of our money then an additional 10% for our release accounts. Where is this release account money going for the guys who will never get out? I’ve paid thousands of dollars in restitution on burglary cases yet not a single victim has received a penny! Once again where’s the money. Is the 50% we pay actually going to victims or only to court costs? Are any of the victims actually getting anything? Then there’s these multiplicitous D.N.A. surcharges if the money was actually going to facilities that deal with D.N.A., then there wouldn’t be this huge backlog of untested rape kits. So, once again where’s the money. We all know 50% is ridiculous, but who keeps track of where this money goes? Can you say audit!!
We just came off lockdown. We were on it from September 17th until October 3rd. It was a very strange lockdown though. I worked the entire time, while most of the other inmates never left their cells except to shower. It was a modified movement lockdown. I’ve never heard of that before.
In their memo staff bluffed that they were going to do searches. While they may have done some searching it was limited to a few units. They had united staff come around and announce that they were on their way to search the unit and gave everyone an amnesty period to throw away their contraband “anonymously”. So many people threw out what extra things they had but the search never came. Many people were upset, not that they had to toss their contraband, but because they did things like take pictures down off the walls and put all their stuff neatly together but in an inconvenient way to use their property. Staff basically caused wide-spread panic and a huge inconvenience for no reason.
The entire purpose of the lockdown was two-fold. To set up the new HSU building (which is finally up and running), and to transfer all the inmates from RH-1 to Rh-2 and unit 7. They completely emptied an entire segregation unit. They shipped a crap ton of people out of the institution to make this move happen. They are renovating the old HSU building and RH_1 simultaneously.
RH-2 is now a big cluster *****. They have a “team” on standby who walk the halls in all their tactical gear. It’s a show of force without them showing force. So all day long they have staff dressed in their turtle suits roaming the halls. The staff is not too happy about this themselves. They also have to wear body cameras which they have to activate every time they go on the tier. Staff in the visiting room have to wear body cameras too. I’m not sure show this is appropriate when they have to conduct strip searches both when inmates come in and out of the visiting room.
The new warden Sue Novak is really flexing her muscles here. She, for some reason, canceled visits on Wednesdays and Thursday indefinitely. How?!?!? The memo says to accommodate changes within CCI’s operational procedures. To what changes she is referring is unspecified.
There is real unrest in segregation right now. I mean there has been several suicide attempts. There have been multiple attempts in a single night as well. They have done 3 cell entries in a shift. I don’t know what is in the air but it is rough around here now.
From what I understand the deputy warden Ruck has resigned. This was reportedly a week or two ago. I don’t know if she’s actually gone or is just scheduled to leave.
The DOC isn’t as big a giant as they may seem. If you attack individuals in the chain it only takes one link to break to destroy that chain. Do you not believe that if you find an outsted and jaded ex-DOC employee that they will not hesitate to tell on all the others that are problems within the DOC? What about those ℅’s that got put out for having relationships with inmates? They would have insider knowledge of problems within individual institutions. They may even hold the key to breaking down higher ups at that institution. I understand that the pool of people like that is small but it’s something. And that is only one source example. There’s more.
There are two things the DOC hates. Lawyers and media. If you are coming here with cameras and doing “independent documentaries” let’s say, they are going to fear you. Come hear with a list of people to talk to on camera. The warden herself is going to want to stand in that room. Individual visits are good, phone zaps work too, but that doesn’t put the knowledge into the public’s hands. The more widespread you are the better. Inmates can put names on guards,
Guards aren’t going to want to be named. There is a cult following of prison shows and series. Even the threat of a series starting or a webcast or even a blog would put the DOC on edge. If you had let’s say 10 guys you followed from each institution, you would have a nice little show. What I’m getting at is that media attention of any nature is something the DOC hates. The guards talk a lot about things like that. Politics can’t beat the media.
It’s funny you speak about understaffing. As I write you are operating under “fog alert” due to understaffing. As I understand it this may last all weekend too.
Well, allow me to give you an update on this slave plantation which have the brothers talking but doing nothing.
(1) The new warden and her regime has:
(A) taken the one extra day of rec we won less than a year ago
(B) She took our intramural basketball,hand ball,baseball,volleyball, bean bag
(C)She took our dayrooms no Sunday
(D)She still refuses to make a good faith effort to hire new staff, so my unit (unit-8) stays on lock-down. We have gone as long as 4 days straight without razors
(E) they have this new stunt to keep inmates on lock-down, whereas when you get a ticket they immediately put you on TLU in the cell, making you wait 21 days for a socalled investigation, knowing full well it will lead to 30 days of cell confinement. So in all, they get 51 days of lock down out of you for a minor infraction. In the old days you’d ge out of your cell till your hearing, free to go to rec,church, groups, ect,ect
(F) The food has gotten a lot worse than it was when I first got here 6 years ago, because they are balancing their bloated budget on our black and brown backs.
From letter from person at Columbia: 4/9/19
#2: Request a copy of the prison menus; (currently all pris. They recycle the same 4 menus. Keep an eye on the proteins provided: we VERY RARELY get real meat anymore. Upwards of 85% of our protein is SOY. That much soy intake, on a CONSISTENT basis, has negative effects: look up the research on it. (I believe it’s also been proven that at this level, you’re essentially getting estrogen treatments. I COULD be wrong about that: I saw it on a televised report. Google it.)
The state is currently trying to “save money”: well, who’re the first “people” that get their funding cut?
#3: Why did they eliminate visits on Wednesdays and Thursdays at CCI? No one can get a straight answer from… ANYONE. (Visits are not a privilege, to be removed as a group punishment, or for psychological warfare purposes so those in power can assert their dominance and “prove who’s in charge here”.)
#4a: I think it would be worth looking into the monopolization of ALLOWED prison vendors.
#4b: As I mentioned before: the prison doesn’t provide adequate hygiene products or food; and not enough pay to provide it for ourselves.
- How are things currently, at CCI?
Overall, the new warden has implemented a LOT of “New Operating Procedures” that are thinly veiled methods of ‘holding things over our heads’.
Let me put it another way: the state/public has finally agreed that excessive segregation time is terrible for people’s mental health, and it’s been mandated that seg time be limited; this leaves the prison with “less punishing power”. …
So they’ve come up with other avenues. (To save time, request a copy of all new procedures passed since this newest warden took over.)
- What lead the previous Warden and Deputy Warden to leave?
I don’t know anything about that. But I’ve asked around, and the person who introduced me to you, seems to know a fair amount about this. So I asked him to tell you what he knows.
I also gave him a (handwritten) copy of these questions, and asked that he answer them from his perspective. (More info!)
- Continuing effects from the lockdown?
I’d say one of the biggest ones is people who had property wrongfully confiscated, and now are having an extremely difficult time getting it back; or can’t get it back at all. Or, some had stuff disappear without any record of it being taken: leaving them with NO recourse for getting it back; (lawsuit paperwork, in particular).
Heating? No. The weather warming up solved that problem.
- Guard assaults?
I don’t know. Most of that happens in the seg units, during cell extractions, or when an inmate “resists” during being cuffed up: from my location, in General Population, I wouldn’t know these things unless by word of mouth. I haven’t heard anything. (I’m very cautious about believing those things; unless it comes from someone I respect.)
- Have I seen any effects of our efforts?
None that are obvious.
But then again, that’s usually how it is when someone works BEHIND the scenes: the person intervened FOR usually isn’t aware it even happened.
One thing I DO notice is that this warden/prison has been on a HUGE crusade to implement (the aforementioned) thinly veiled privilege/punishment procedures. Which could simply be a bad case of Napoleon Complex. Or it could be a case of “your teacher punishing YOU, because SHE got reprimanded by your mother”; (you know what I’m saying?).
4-2-19 letter from inside Columbia Correctional:
I would like to know if you can send me info on the IWOC group formed in Texas. For being a pretty strict state on everything and they got a group started. I think its possible and would like to try to get it started in Wisconsin.
So seeing how that stupid lockdown ended things are going marginally better. It’s also my understanding that the warden Sue Novak is not here for now. No idea how long that is going to last and if the guy Warden Boughton is staying or not. Its definitely absurd that such high level positions are promoted from within. The security director went to being the Deputy Warden. To me that’s conflict of interest.
CCI is finally opening up the outside slowly. I noticed from my window that the minimum inmates are being allowed on the rec field on the weekends.
We have 3 recs a week, they are on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday. Then we have day room every weekend and every other Tuesday and Friday. We might get day room 2 or 3 times a month. They always say they are short on staff but it’s crazy all week they show up for work and when the weekend comes all of a sudden nobody is scheduled to work. Then rec the only 3 we get 2 get canceled right off top due to training days,which fall on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so we only get a total of 10 recs a month and that’s if they don’t come up with some excuse not to give it to us. If they know we only have rec 3 days a week why not put training days on Monday or Friday? Days that we don’t have anything going on. It dont make sense and no reasonable excuse as to why. And they claim they are training these corr officer’s but yet they have this “short staff” excuse every single weekend. And to top it off we have to choose between rec or library/law library. The little amount of rec we do get and we have to lose out on it to go to the library. Another big important issue in this institution is the programs an education that is available to us. They don’t offer any vocational courses right now. So the inmates like myself as well as many others cant even further our education because none are offered to us. Then program’s here are a thing of the past as we are told we are on a waiting list due to short of staff and some of us are not able to get any programs because their out date is far away, so they have to sit years and years with little to no programs. This institution needs to be looked into an fixed because we are not getting the help we need and the help we were sent to prison to get.
The new rules that have kicked in today is.
1) Instead of (1) shower A day like the old policies allowed, we will only beable to take showers( 3) A week. This is wrong in so many ways that I can go on for days, we our not single cells here and we are lock in our cell 23 hours a day. Its also summer time now, so this is going clause health issues, and is really unclean to have grown man in a cell not taking showers for days at a time.
2) This rule is just not right at all, instead of (3) hot meal’s we will only receive (1) hot meal in that will be for ( lunch). So for dinner we will receive
two pieces of bread, (1) piece of cold mystery meat, A piece of fruit, and A beg of chips. That will be all a grown man will receive for a meal to put on his stomach before he goes to bed. What’s even worse is that its a cold meal and not a hot one. For the last 4 months they have been given us cold beg meals for dinner on the weekends, saying that they is under-staff. But every week you see 10 new correctional officers walking around here, but they say they is under-staff.
3) They is also taking all of the day rooms away from us, so if you don’t or can’t afford a tablet your ass out. Because the only time to use the( kiosk)
Was at day room. So now its going to even be more harder for people to reach they love ones. They already cut two days out of the week for visits, no visit on ( Wednesday or Thursday). What’s next. What ever they can take they will.
4) Is going to be the one that cuts the cake. As of may 20, 2019, DaI staff
Sent out a new memo stating: that beginning the week of 6/3, that the phone system will be switch over to centurylinks , and will drop down to 0 .06¢ A minute. So what does (CCI) do, change the phone call policy and format from you could receive the phone (3) times a day, to only 4 times a week. The days we will beable to call home is only Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. You will now have your door popped open to get the phone, once your door opens your time is to start no matter what. Each inmate will only be allowed to receive the phone for 20 minutes no more then that. If you can’t reach your love ones because they is at work to bad, (1) try (1) call that’s it that’s all. This rule is design to break our well and our line of communication with our love ones. Now we have to pick in choose who we should call on that one day in pray they at home. We don’t get to pick our times we can or want to use the phone, when that door open that’s your one chance. Its people who have sick family members out there, we can’t call our kids on their Birthday unless it falls on that day. This isn’t design to help us receive the phone, this is a punishment because of the cellphones that was found inside of this institution over the last 5 months. Just think about it ,the phone calls just drop today ,and that same day they make a new rule to stop us from reaching out to our love ones. I know on the Doc:website for (CCI) says this is a supermax now but on that same site last month it said this was Max. They has change it in made this seem as if this was the worst max joint in Wisconsin in ever body know that is not try. This is a test to break us and then its going to be the next place then the next.
We need phone numbers, emails & personal address to people that can help us with these issues at hand.
Columbia Correctional Institution is starting this new policy practice here now, which is making it hard for rehabilitation here from the day to day schedule ,practice as well as this here phone allowances. With less community connection the less rehabilitation that will happen. The institution didn’t even check with staff to see how this new policy practice here will effect everyone and their lives. They just decided to test us as scientists test laboratory animals. Which is bogus! We are never fed on time,this feeding schedule jumps around so much we don’t know when we will be called out, yesterday I came back to my cell for count as well as to eat dinner like an hour to make this happen and this institution is not on time.so I go back to work unfed and hungry this morning it seem to be following the same day to day practices. But mostly,we are messing the communication with family and our community in which we come from.
From a letter received 6/27/19:
1) Here at CCI due to our warden’s personal beliefs any and all images that are slightly erotic are denied, in violation of judge crabb’s decision in 1999.
As of June 3 info
2) We get rec or library 5 days a week Mon – Fri , no day room anymore.
3)phones Mon – Fri 1 x per day 4 x per week.
4)only 1 training day per month
Letter received 6/28/19:
“The next big change they’ve made is to the phones. We have gone from having the option to sign up for the phone 3 times every day to a paltry 4 phone calls every week. The phone days are Sunday, Monday (cell cleaning day), Wednesday, and Friday. Even if you sign up, you’re not guaranteed to use the phone. The COs control the phones, so you have to use it whenever they decide you can. If you can’t get through you lose your call. There are no phones on the yard or in the gym to supplement the reduction in phone calls on the unit.
Contact with family and friends is extremely important to anyone who is incarcerated. It allows us to talk about our issues with people outside the correctional system, giving us different perspective. It allows us maintain or even strengthen the bonds we have with the people who will most likely help us reintegrate with society. It also allows us to coordinate visits. Instant communication is a given for most people in the free world, but it is a precious commodity in prison.”
Conditions in the Wisconsin prison system need to change.
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org P. O. Box 342294, Milwaukee, WI, 53234